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 Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas sitting together Can Pep Rey

In the mood of Gertrude Stein... from Paris to Tangier.

Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Francis Bacon, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, the Rolling Stones, Yves-Saint Laurent… So many artists of the XX century felt in love with Tangier. A rumour says it’s all thanks to a woman’s prophetic vision… 

A woman who would invent a dream to get rid of a band of artists who were kind of too intrusive. A dream in which she sent them all to live in Tangier. A dream so true that it became History…

Tanger postcard


« De la part de qui venez-vous? » Seven words, a little sentence as an alleged recommendation, a game with which you were welcomed in the most mythic Parisian Salon, best known as 27 rue de Fleurus. Gertrude Stein. The woman who could make the sunshine or make it rain on your career. Meeting place of the American vanguard, her living room was the witness of her caprices and her severe but fair criticism.

Goddess of transgression, transmasculinity, transversality… Also known for her experimental poetry and her investigation to break the language and give birth to an American moving language in reaction to an English living language she claimed to be too static.

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein, some say she had the eye to know what the artists needed and the voice to convince them. Others say she was a dictator. Who cares since sending two of her proteges to Tangier nourished the 20th century with some of its great masterpieces… 


Tangier. Crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Arab world. Where the Arabic and Berber languages neighbour Spanish, Portuguese or French… Port lost in front of Gibraltar. Tanger la Blanche, jealously surrounded by mountains. A pearl in a green setting, the « Pearl of the Straits ». 

Henri Matisse

First, she sent Matisse in 1912. Stein was right, Tangier has been a revival in his inspiration. With more than 60 paintings and drawings, he found a new way of creation. « The trips to Morocco helped me to make this transition, to reconnect with nature better than the application of a living theory but somewhat limited like Fauvism was. »

Her second target was Paul Bowles. The one she nicknamed « Freddie », gave the sobriquet « A Manufactured Savage » and who begged him to give up writing poetry… 

Paul Bowles Can Pep Rey

He arrived in Tangier in 1931, and never left until his death in 1999. Even though he denied being part of the Beat Generation, he deeply influenced those ‘enfants terribles’, even more, when they decided to land, live and create for a while in Tangier.  Looking for other horizons, those who challenge the American way of life found in this eccentric city one of the possible elsewhere.


Beat Generation

For them, Tangier was la dolce vita, the Martini where they sipped on the terrace of the Café de Paris, staying at the El Minzah Hotel whose wine cellar was famous, and the Hafa café where they spent hours contemplating the Spanish coast, fourteen kilometres away.

About his life in Tangier, Paul Bowles wrote, « I based the meaning of my presence in this world on the irrational belief that some parts of the earth were more magical than others. »

Back to France, a leap into the 21st century. It’s been one month that between two surf sessions and two glasses of rosé I combed through my old friend Google, looking for that Gertrude Stein « rumour » that a fine arts teacher told me during a creative writing workshop in Paris, ten years ago… As I did a sociological investigation Master, I’m normally quite a good detective, but this time… Nothing. I couldn’t find any trace of it. But… Who cares? Who cares if Stein sent them all or not. Who cares if indeed she dreamt her promised odyssée or it was all an invented strategy. Because as she said, if «the artist works by locating the world in himself», then «whenever you get there, there is no there there».


Written by Carine Valette 


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